iPads and Chromebooks: A Glimpse into the future of Small Business IT

I remember the day that Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad. I remember watching the keynote saying that this is going to change things, just like the iPhone changed the mobile phone industry.

I bought one right out the gate. In fact, I think that year I bought my dad one as well as both of my siblings. However, I found myself “looking for a reason to use it” and eventually just put it into a drawer and forgotten about it. Throughout the years, I kept trying to fall in love with it, but every time I’d buy a new one, I’d end up not using it again and giving it away. I kept saying, I don’t use it because whether at home or at work I’d be less than ten feet away from a desktop so the need wasn’t there.

Seven years later, late last year, I decided to try again and purchased a 9.7” iPad Pro. I was doubtful that I’d actually use it other than when I was sitting on the couch watching TV. I was pleasantly surprised. The reverse had happened. Instead of not using the iPad in favor of my computers, I was using the iPad instead of my computers. In fact, at home for all of this year, that 9.7” iPad Pro, now a 10.5” iPad
Pro is the device that I’m on from the time that I wake up until the time that I go to bed. I even hardly touch my iPhone while I’m at home since everything also goes to my iPad.

I think there are several reasons for this but if I had to narrow it down to two: it’s the maturity of professional, desktop class apps and the fact that the cloud has become more prevalent in our lives, allowing us to access our data from whichever device we have in front of us.

Here’s the thing though, if you put my use case aside. I see the trend of iPad-like devices on the rise in the consumer technology market. In addition to Apple with their iPads, Google has their Chromebooks and now earlier this year, Microsoft came out with their Windows 10 S laptops. Despite these three giants having their own approaches to their own versions of next generation devices, I see a lot more in common with the three than you might think.

All three of these platforms restrict what you can install on them. In the case of iOS, you can only install apps from the App Store, in the case of Windows 10 S, the Windows Store and the Chromebooks you can’t install anything, you just have the Chrome browser. These restrictions make it almost impossible to install anything malicious on the devices. On top of that, they all update automatically and aside from Windows 10 S, Chromebooks and iOS backup automatically to the cloud. Can you see the trend, yet? The three biggest tech giants in the industry are creating manage-less devices. What happens when you physically break or lose one of these devices? You go and buy a new device, enter your login credentials, everything restores from the backup and you’re back to square one.

The reason that I’m so fascinated with these new era of devices is because I can see them impacting small businesses in a large way. Think about this, say a small business with 5-10 employees, instead of buying their employees traditional desktop computers, they bought them one of these devices instead with an LTE connection? And if you add to that a cloud based phone system such as Grasshopper or RingCentral, you would eliminate the need for an office network all together. No more ISPs, routers, firewalls, servers, switches, etc. Plus, since these devices are secure by default, you have a lot less reliance on IT people.

I’m the first one to admit that all the pieces aren’t quite in place yet. For instance, there will still be a need for printers and copiers to have some type of network connection. And the wireless providers need to be a lot less restrictive on data caps and data throttling. I do see the pieces falling into place sooner rather than later. If you look at the typical small business productivity software such as Office, Quickbooks, communication and file sharing and collaboration, all the biggest software providers have cloud and/or app equivalents of their products.

Something to think about.

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Disk Imaging

I’m beginning to feel old here but I remember my first IT job at my high school. At that time, Windows XP had just came out and all the computers on campus were running Windows ME. My first year working there, we spent the whole winter break manually formatting the existing computer lab computers, installing Windows XP, installing all of the Windows Updates, installing Microsoft Office, Adobe Reader, Flash, installing all of the network printers, etc. Over and over and over, again all by hand (I still have that damned Windows XP product key memorized).

This was before I discovered imaging. Fast forward 15 years, I very rarely ever rebuild a system from scratch because I developed a new habit. Whether it be for my personal computers or computers for clients, I get the system setup perfectly the first time, create an image for that system and store it. This way, if that computer ever crashes or it becomes time for a client to buy new systems, I just pop start the image restore, come back half an hour to an hour later and vola! A perfect, clean system already configured.

When I started working at California State University, Bakersfield I started in the “installs” department. Our job was whenever departments would order new computers, we were tasked with getting them configured with the necessary software both for the departments standards as well as the campus standards. At that time, we used Symantec’s Ghost to create an image for each particular model of a system that the campus would buy so when we would get that model again, we would already have an image for it. However, by the time my tenure of working there completed, we had signed a contract with Dell where every six months or so, we would send a master image off to them and Dell would do the imaging for us prior to shipping. Because the campus was constantly buying new computers, we could do that.

For small businesses, however, they only upgrade their hardware once every few years, if that. So I highly recommend that when you do purchase new computers for your small business, create an image and try your best to have everybody on the same model and vendor of computer (even though there are utilities to create universal images to be able to create and restore images to and from different hardware).

My go to imaging software for both personal practice and for my IT clients has always been Acronis True Image because of its simplicity and price, it starts at just $50.

So, start using imaging! Your future self will thank you!

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Google Drive Backup

It still amazes me that this day in age, that you need to remind people to backup their computers, or more commonly, try to convince people that backing up your important files once every six months to a flash drive or external hard drive isn’t exactly the best strategy.

Now, you definitely have no excuse. Earlier this month Google released their new desktop client for Google Drive. The most important feature that it added that the client lacked before was the ability to automatically and continuously backup files on your desktop, documents folder, etc. Just download once, set it and forget it, the client does the rest. Best of all, every Gmail user already has 15 gb free! It’s not much but it’s plenty enough to backup impo documents and such.

Even if you already have backups, why not just add one more layer on top of it for extra protection? Go download the Google Drive client for Mac or PC and get it setup and enjoy peace of mind.

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OwnCloud: An open source, self-hosted Dropbox alternative

Sometime last year right around the time that Dropbox had their database of user accounts and passwords compromised, a client of mine got wind of the story and asked me to remove all of their cloud services to on-premise servers.

At the time, I was using Dropbox Plus to keep their network drive in sync between their multiple business locations (quite honestly because it just worked and it was one last thing that I had to worry about managing) so I began researching open source, self hosted alternatives to Dropbox. I quickly came across OwnCloud which is exactly what I was looking for. OwnCloud runs on top of your existing LAMP stack and has a web client, desktop sync clients as well as mobile clients for both iOS and Android. Best of all, it has file versioning built in. You can also use the EFF’s LetsEncrypt to secure the data in transit using SSL.

Ever since discovering it, I’ve also ran my own personal OwnCloud server using a Raspberry Pi and a one terabyte external hard drive. Of course, with any self hosted service, you get the responsibility of backing it up. I don’t keep anything mission critical on my OwnCloud but I wrote a simple Python script to copy over all of the data, dump the MariaDB database, tar it into an archive, send it through an encryption process and send it up to my Google Drive once a week.

Even if you don’t have a business, having your own personal cloud storage is still a fun project to do. For less than $99 (the cost for 1 year of Dropbox Pro), you can go on Amazon and order yourself a cheap Raspberry Pi kit as well as a 1 terabyte USB external hard drive and build your own personal cloud storage!

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Day One

A few months ago, I decided that I wanted to start journaling, not just for myself but for future family, after all I’m a firm believer that we all have a story to tell. I’ve always heard that the Day One app for iOS and Mac was the way to go so I decided to give it a try. It didn’t disappoint!

Day One automatically keeps all of my iOS devices in sync with my journal and automatically captures the locations where I’m writing from, the music I’m listening to while I’m writing and if I’m writing on my iPhone (which typically I write on my iPad) my activity for the day such as how many steps that I have taken that particular day. Day One makes it ridiculously easy to attach photos to entries as well.

The app also has support for IFTTT recipes so you can automate entries. For instance, I have recipes setup to add all of my Facebook and Twitter posts as journal entries.

The feature that I’m most excited about however, is one that I have yet to use, Book Printing. You can either have your whole journal printed professionally or select specific entries that you would like printed up to 400 pages. I think my strategy is going to be that every time I reach 400 pages, have a physical copy printed and tuck it away somewhere.

When I first started with Day One, it costed $4.99 for the mobile version and $49.99 for the Mac version. Since then, they controversially switched to the subscription pricing model with it being priced at $34.99 per year for new users and $24.99 per year for existing users. They aren’t forcing people to switch to the subscription but I immediately signed up and paid the $25 to support future development.

Check it out here: http://dayoneapp.com

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iOS 10.3.3: Patch for Wi-Fi Vulnerability 

When I woke up this morning I saw that iOS 10.3.3 is out. This security update fixes a vulnerability in the wi-fi chipset in all the latest iPhones and iPads that allows attackers to perform code execution when they are in close proximity to your device.
To update, go to Settings on your device, tap on General, tap on Software Update and then Download and Install

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Amazon Cloud Drive to Google Drive

So I’ve used Amazon Cloud Drive as my primary online service provider for the last few years. How could I not? I mean, it was $60/year for unlimited storage. Over the past few years I’ve managed to store 4.6 terabytes of data on their cloud drive. Backups, movies, pictures, music, you name it and I probably had it stored in there.

So you can imagine my disappointment when I logged into my account a couple of months ago and it said that my plan was changing from unlimited storage for $60/year to 5 terabytes for $299/year. And worse, I only had a month before my unlimited plan ended so I only had a month to find my data a new home. I lost faith in on premise external drives back in college when I dropped the external hard drive that contained my 200 gb of music and lost it all.

I took about a week researching and researching different online storage providers. The biggest problem I had was all of the reputable companies that I knew that would be around years from now, all maxed out at 1 terabyte. I finally gave up and decided just to upgrade my G-Suite Basic account ($5/user/month) to G-Suite Business ($10/user/month) so I could utilize the one terabyte storage in Google Drive and just move over the priority files.

How G-Suite Business accounts are supposed to work is that for accounts that have less than 5 users, each user is supposed to be limited to 1 terabyte per user and for accounts that have more than 5 users, each user gets unlimited storage.

I only have one user under my account (myself) so I was baffled when I went under my storage settings and it said that I had unlimited storage. So I decided to test it. I launched a Google Compute instance and started to transfer all of my data from Amazon Cloud Drive to Google Drive using Syncovory (so I could transfer 10 different files concurrently versus one at a time) and was able to transfer it all within a couple days.

Two months later, still no issues. So if you are looking to store large amounts of data, give G-Suite Business a look.

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